Quality Assurance in the Voluntary and Community Sector


VCOs are increasingly expected to adopt more business-like approaches to demonstrate their performance and effectiveness, and to evidence their impact. Commissioners cite quality standards on their Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) and often reward points to organisations that have a quality standard in place. Whilst funders from charitable trusts and foundations do not award points on the same basis as public sector commissioners, they want to see evidence of quality organisations, so that they can be sure that the grant funding they award will be managed well and have the desired outcomes.

OPM and NCVO were commissioned by the Big Lottery Fund to gather evidence about the quality standards used in the voluntary and community sector. The aim of the research was to find evidence about the types of quality standards that are available to the VCS, how they are used and how useful they are to whom. This in turn would enable the BIG Lottery to consider the value it attaches to such standards as part of its assessment process.

What we did

BIG identified six key questions to be addressed to meet the aims of the research:

  1. What quality assurance approaches (accredited and otherwise) are available for VCOs?
  2. How do accredited quality standards in the sector differ from ISO in terms of their rigour or consistency? What perceptions of reliability exist around quality assurance standards as a result of the different types of accreditation or its absence?
  3. How do organisations make use of standards they use?
  4. How are models or standards adapted?
  5. Does the type and size of an organisation have a bearing on the take-up of particular approaches and quality marks? If so, why is this?
  6. What evidence from the literature and from practice is there of the effectiveness and understanding of these quality assurance approaches

To answer these questions OPM reviewed literature on quality standards, analysed funding bids, conducted 18 interviews with VCOs, funders and commissioners, and designed an online survey for over 300 respondents.


The research suggested that even the most popular quality standards, such as PQASSO and Investors in People appear to be used fairly marginally when compared with the wide range of other methods of improving quality in this sector, such as user satisfaction surveys, service reviews and complaints monitoring.

Reflecting on the breadth of continuous quality improvement systems and processes being used in the sector, the report points to the value in commissioners and funders taking these into consideration and asks if more widely recognised validated standards might be an option.

The report also recommends supporting voluntary and community organisations to make informed choices about their approach to quality assurance and the use of quality standards and makes suggestions of how to go about this.